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The Multiverse at War

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The letter T!here is a grand tradition of Latest Developments articles built around comments from Multiverse, the database we use to craft Magic sets. I enjoyed them as a reader before I got to Wizards, I enjoy writing them now, and it seems many of you enjoy them too. You may notice that I didn't do one for Scars of Mirrodin; somehow, that was a Multiverse file without enough interesting or funny stuff to get an article out of. Happily, Mirrodin Besieged has plenty of stuff to talk about. Let's get going!

As always, here's the key to the comments you're about to read.

AF: Aaron Forsythe, director of Magic R&D
AJ: Alexis Janson, Great Designer Search 1 winner
DB: Doug Beyer, Magic Creative designer
Del: Del Laugel, Magic senior editor
EVL: Erik Lauer, Mirrodin Besieged lead developer
KEN: Ken Nagle, Magic designer
MT: Mike Turian, Mirrodin Besieged developer
MR: Mark Rosewater, Magic head designer
TML: Me!
RBM: Ryan Miller, Duel Masters designer
sw: Steve Warner, Duel Masters developer and Magic playtester
ZH: Zac Hill, Mirrodin Besieged developer

KEN 3/12/2010: One of these goofy out-of-place ginormous white uncommon dudes like Rockcaster Platoon and Nacatl Hunt-Pride. Hooray! :D
AF 3/19: The Enormous Uncommon is one of my favorite kinds of Magic cards.

I talked in an earlier article about this card and those that came before it. Ruham Djinn, Rockcaster Platoon, and Sentry Oak are all cards in the same genre, and we basically love them all.

Wait.... Oh no, it's Angry Mike Turian! Look out!

MT 3/23: How come you were angry at the Nacatl Hunt-Pride then!

At first, I thought the card in question here was Nacatl War-Pride, a card which does something pretty cool but has all kinds of rules issues that might be regrettable, especially at uncommon. I don't know the history here; if I had to guess, it would be that not everyone was in agreement about a shard-flavored card with off-color activations whose main color wasn't the center color.

I don't remember who had the idea to make a pair of Paladin en-Vec-like cards that represented the factions. The idea took root, though, and figuring out what their abilities were supposed to be was fairly obvious. If infect only takes ten points to kill you, the obvious mirror to that is double strike. Could we make those cards?

We were quite pleased with how the black one read and played. The other one, however...

ZH 1/11: This guy reads like the absolute sickest ever.
KEN 1/19/2010: I remember when I liked playing green. :(
EVL 1/22: Yeah this might be too sick (obviously), but I am interested in testing it. It might be vig + first strike.
MJ 1/25: while you may have trouble blocking it on the plus side you don't have to worry about it getting giant growth'd.
EVL 1/27: LOL!

We played with the card for a while, which is how we figure these things out. Although we weren't sure how, many of us slowly came around to this card being alright. It was good, but it wasn't unreasonably good.

ZH 2/1: Part of me is thinking this guy might just be printable after all.
sw 2/10: I really like these two knights, they may even go into people's memory over the white/black knight.

Of course, we didn't step testing it there.

ZH 2/16: Green cannot beat this card without some sort of hyper combo finish.
EVL 2/17: I assumed that a pro red guy was worse for a red deck. A green deck splashing red would typically have red creature removal. A red deck splashing green typically doesn't have green creature removal. Or are we only talking mono-colored?
ZH 2/18: A) a lot of your G decks are GB because of poison, but b) right if you have bolts you're fine. I was referring to mostly mono-G or GW Survival decks. Thing that is different about this guy over even Paladin is that 4 points of damage is usually enough to actively kill all their guys, not just block and stay alive. Still think he's fine for now though.

The more we played with the card, the more we realized that one of the better things to do with this card was to put Swords on it. You could get protection from a bonus color if you used Sword of Body and Mind, and you also got the effect twice from double strike. After a particularly savage Sword-enabled beating from this guy, Aaron asked us to investigate changing the cards.

AF 3/19: These feel super-inflationary to me, and they are no fun to face when equipped. Can they be toned down one notch? Ideas: a) Activated doublestrike/infect (C:) b) 3C to cast. c) 2/1 d) Gold. RWW and BBG. Same power, more pigeonholed.
EVL 3/19: Something that occurs to me is 2/1, and add pro-artifact so they can't be equipped. But maybe that makes them too unstoppable.
TML 3/19/2010: I prefer just moving them to one toughness. They will still be powerful there, but then they can be hit by the Plague Thing in Scars. The other solutions are kludgy to my eye.
EVL 3/20: The activation on double strike works for me. I don't like activated infect as much (though it could be infect with activated first strike).


In the following days, we had a few particularly intense playtesting sessions where we jammed the Crusaders in the best decks we could and played them against our other best decks in order to make sure we were doing the right thing. You can't see the conclusion of that work here, but we ended up deciding that they were in the right place after all. We thought they were both going to be interesting in Constructed, but not so strong that they dominated anything. We presented this opinion to Aaron, and he was satisfied. So far, it appears that we were basically right.

KEN 3/21/2010: So odd that an innocuous-looking Johnny artifact like Plague Vesicle is actually a balancepoint for us to bend cards around.

Here, the Plague Vesicle that Ken is talking about is now called Contagion Clasp, which we were playing lot more than it is being played in the real world. We liked the proliferate effect for making planeswalkers get to their ultimate faster, but that has shown itself to be less valuable than we thought it would be. We can't always be right about what will happen in Standard, but in this case the Crusaders are working out just fine.

We designed the Zeniths in one pass when they were added to the file during early development. The other four stayed basically as they were from the beginning. This one, however, didn't. At first, it made colorless tokens.

EVL 1/22: I was playing Tom's deck which used this + Honor of the Pure. However this card makes colorless tokens, not white. Are we doing it right? Do white tokens and Myr tokens both work creatively?

White Sun's Zenith is a white card that makes tokens, and it didn't work with one of white's best token support cards in the format. Happily, Creative came back with the opinion that this could make white tokens. They would have to be 1/1s or 2/2s, and they asked us to choose a size.

EVL 1/27: DOUG! We chose white 2/2's. Cat Soldier is developer filler.
DB 1/28/2010: Okay, thanks. I believe SOM has 2/2 white Cat tokens. (Those Cats got no class. Daddy-o.)

This version of the card started as an X ManaWhite ManaWhite Mana sorcery. Someone had the idea to try it as a slightly more expensive instant. Also, along the way, Zac Hill decided that cat festivals are awesome.

ZH 2/1: YAY CAT FESTIVALS!
ZH 3/9: Should we be playing this as XWWW Instant?
EVL 3/12: XWW Sorcery -> XWWW Instant

Erik had some doubts about whether this was the right design, though, and asked about an alternative idea that we had for it.

EVL 3/12: Do you prefer this or XW instant: exile target non-land permanent with cmc X or less?
AF 3/19: This. Decree of Cats.
TML 3/19/2010: I also prefer this.
RBM 3/23: Cats!
MR (3/25/10): I like cats as well. I've really enjoyed playing with this cycle by the way.

Hooray for Cats!

DB 1/5/2010: Surveilling Sprite from RAV is this plus flying.
KEN 1/19/2010: Blue card drawing gets [worse] AGAIN!!
ZH 1/20: BUT IT'S A BLUE ZOMBIE ONEONEONE.
MLG 2/11: Strictly worse than Surveilling Sprite.
KEN 2/22/2010: HOMUNCULI DON'T FLY NEWB
AF 2/18: I still play it every time I'm blue. His role feels different.

I'm with Aaron on this one. Although I don't play Oculus every time, I don't put it on the bench very often. In Mirrodin Besieged, this guy is happy to fuel a Vivisection or pick up one of the many Equipment in the set and trade for a bigger creature while also giving me a card. Ravnica didn't have sacrificing creatures as a theme, nor did it have a large concentration of Equipment, so a Surveilling Sprite functional reprint would be much stronger here than it was there.

Another part of the conversation that you can't see here is that we thought blue was already pretty sweet in Limited. Corrupted Conscience and Vedalken Anatomist are two of the set's best uncommons, and there is a mass of very solid commons like Steel Sabotage, Quicksilver Geyser, and Serum Raker. We were happy with blue's power level in Limited and satisfied that there was plenty for this card to do as is, so we made the less powerful version (called "Twigleg" at the time).

This being Magic R&D, though, tradition demanded that I ask a stupid hypothetical question.

TML 3/3/2010: Does Twigleg fly? Also, could he beat Bosh at basketball?

Aaron was there with the response.

AF 3/19: Certainly not Chris Bosh of the Toronto Raptors.

MJ 1/25: Are we fine with the impact this card has on Vintage?

Whoa! This is not something you see asked every day, but here it is. In a vacuum, this is kind of a scary statement, as it implies that we're making something ridiculously powerful. Happily, this one is merely an answer card.

EVL 1/26: Nice point :) I think it is fine. Maybe they can stop Time Vault with it?

If this card turns out to have an impact on Vintage, I'll be pretty happy. It would be doing noble work, countering Lodestone Golems and bouncing Blightsteel Colossuses. We love what Spell Pierce has done in Legacy and Vintage, and this would live in a similar space.

KEN 2/16/2010: Are we ever *not* fine with a card's impact on Vintage?
EVl 2/17: It isn't going to have a huge impact on a card, but [it might be worth changing a card for] something like Trinisphere.

Ken's question is enlightening. We normally don't warp proactive cards in new sets to accommodate eternal formats, mainly because we don't need to. There are over twelve thousand Magic cards, and among them are the answers to almost anything anyone can dream up. Occasionally, we get a card that combines so strongly with an existing card—think Mishra's Workshop plus Trinisphere on turn one—that we do change it. For answer cards, though, we love it if there might be a chance of a new card helping out.

This card is not particularly remarkable. "Phyresis" is the name of the disease you get when you become a Phyrexian, so in a surprising twist, this card gives a creature infect. However, it is the location of a comment that demonstrates one of the functions of the Magic editors: to catch things that are somewhat weird about a set. Here, Del recognized one such thing.

Del 1/22: The set has only four enchantments at the moment.
EVL 1/26: I think equipment tends to displace "positive creature auras", and other artifacts tend to replace global enchantments.

Erik is correct. All the stuff that enchantments normally do was just somewhere else at the moment. We will return to your regularly scheduled enchantments this summer.

KEN 10/29/2009: You never board this, it's always maindeck; Infect randomly gets hosed instead of calculatedly gets hosed.
AJ 11/16: Good. Make sure the conflict is in your face, not in your sideboard.
ZH 12/21: Agree.

You may have noticed at some point in the last few months that there is a war going on between Mirrodin and Phyrexia. Some of our cards even suggest that war. This is one of the more blunt ones. It is possible that one day an innocent small child will find this card and wonder why the infect clause is on there, but we wanted the conflict to come through on the cards as well. This card ensures that this happens in Limited.

AF 2/18: Is this reparations for printing Beast Hunt?
EVL 2/24: I think it is reparations for giving giant growth and rampant growth to artifact, and making half of green's creatures not cause lifeloss!

Erik is being a little melodramatic here, but not much. The mana Myr give mana acceleration to all five colors in Limited, and Sphere of the Suns and Everflowing Chalice do the same thing in Constructed. Equipment gives creature pumping to all five colors, and in a way that is much more fundamentally powerful than Giant Growth effects. Also, a ton of green creatures have infect, which don't help you if you're drafting a "normal" deck. By Erik's logic, green should get something cool to make up for it.

Lead the Stampede asks you to play almost exclusively creatures and lands in your other 39 or 56 slots, which can be quite a deck-building constraint. If you're willing to do that, though, the card is pretty nice. I've seen this card show up in Constructed every once in a while now. In particular, there's an Extended Elves combination deck that plays both this and Green Sun's Zenith to powerful effect.

ZH 2/8: This card is just so cool.
AF 2/18: I was fooled into playing it in limited.
EVL 2/18: It was really good for me in limited.

Magic is boring if it's easy to figure out the right answers. Here, we have two Pro Tour Sunday competitors having an extreme disagreement about how good a card is after each of them had it in a draft. That's a good sign that we're keeping Magic interesting enough to figure out.

I hope you enjoyed this trip into Multiverse. I was on the development team for "Action," and I promise you that there's plenty of fuel there for another article or two like this. It has one of the more colorful Multiverse files in recent memory, so I look forward to writing those articles, and I think you'll be happy to see them when they come.

Last Week's Poll

How do you like Standard with Mirrodin Besieged?
It's awesome! 1202 21.5%
It's good. 1959 35.1%
It's okay. 1122 20.1%
It's bad. 233 4.2%
It's terrible! 221 4.0%
I don't have an opinion. 845 15.1%
Total 5582 100.0%

This Week's Poll

 How many times have you drafted in the past month, either in paper or online?  
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